Sometimes two priests isn’t a crowd.
Metal icons never really retire, they just go on holiday for just under a decade before coming back as strong as ever, or at least that’s how things go if K.K. Downing’s story up until now is the standard. His auspicious departure from the fold of Judas Priest in the early days of the previous decade took the metal masses aback a bit, with a contingent of said band’s core audience wondering what laid ahead for one of heavy metal’s 6-string trailblazers, as well as doubting as to whether the rest of the band could forge ahead with the same level of power. In the case of the latter question, 2018’s “Firepower” showcased a brilliantly modernized and colossal Judas Priest that would set the bar high for any response from their former compatriot. With the arrival of the current decade, it became quite clear that retirement is not in Mr. Downing’s vocabulary, and his newly minted metallic fold KK’s Priest have pulled zero punches on their debut LP “Sermons Of The Sinner.”
From the formation of this project, it was fairly clear that K.K. was going for a strong credibility and familiarity factor, tapping two consequential names from Judas Priest’s extensive history. Handling vocal duties is one-time Halford replacement and de facto studio mercenary Tim “Ripper” Owens, who has lost none of that brilliant mix of glass-shattering shrieks and overall ferocity that, would make him an apt successor. Though he would ultimately not be able to contribute in the studio due to a wrist injury and be replaced by Cage drummer Sean Elg, Les Binks’ involvement from the get go would indicate a more conservative rendition of the old Priest sound compared to the recent works of Halford, Tipton and company. A couple of younger and lesser known quantities would be tapped in groove metal trustee and Hostile guitarist A.J. Mills and Deeds bassist Tony Newton, bringing a helping of modernity into what can be best described as a mostly old school arrangement.
From the opening moments of this highly ambitious slab of steel, it’s fairly clear that Downing has his eyes a bit more focused on the past than his former band’s last couple of outings. Following a brief narrated and haunting overture to a stormy background dubbed “Incarnation”, the familiarly chaotic sounds of 1990’s “Painkiller” become obvious all but to a fault with the vicious, riff happy onslaught of “Hellfire Thunderbolt”, which is chock full of noise-steeped guitar dives, unrelenting banshee wails and an almost speed/thrash-infused riff backdrop. This trend of showing no sonic mercy culminates with the second and third parts of what one might dub the “Painkiller” hat trick in title anthem “Sermons Of The Sinner” and “Sacerdote y Diablo”, each balancing raging riffs and drumming with wild yet calculated vocal gymnastics, though the riveting shred duels between Downing and Mills do make Owens work for his share of the glory, while bassist Tony Newton breaks with the wholly support role approach of Ian Hill, bringing something more along the lines of Steve Harris’ fancy handiwork to the table.
But the acclaimed 1990 return to metallic form in Priest’s back catalog isn’t the only source of inspiration on display here. One listen to the mid-paced, rock-based swagger of biker anthem “Brothers Of The Road” will scream slightly modernized throwback to the early 80s bangers “Heading Out To The Highway” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” to any fan that’s in the know. The speed-infused yet more old school riffing goodness of “Wild And Free” splits the difference between channeling “Stained Class” and “Defenders Of The Faith,” while the mid-paced yet busy banger “Raise Your Fists” lays on the early 80s tropes and Maiden-like harmonized guitar riffs pretty thick. At a few points this fold veers a bit away from the Priest formula, culminating in a pair of longer epic offerings in “Metal Through And Through” and “Return Of The Sentinel”, the former channeling early 80s Saxon and Black Sabbath, while the latter definitely takes a few cues from both Iron Maiden and a number of recent power metal offerings out of the likes of Cage and Primal Fear.
In storybook fashion, what K.K. Downing has accomplished here can be best understood as an extended love letter to heavy metal that will ring highly familiar to fans of classic era Judas Priest. It doesn’t fully commit to being an overt throwback the way the NWOTHM often seeks to accomplish, and while the drum sound is notably retro in character and the guitar one employed exists on a middle ground between the dark, thrashing mannerisms of “Painkiller”and the spacey crunch of “Screaming For Vengeance,” as a complete arrangement it is more in keeping with 2020s practices than not. It’s basically the sort of album that would have ingratiated more fans to Tim Owens’ mighty pipes being part of the Judas Priest family had it been released in place of the somewhat controversial 1997 nod to 90s groove metal “Jugulator,” and a solid display of metal magic that argues strongly in favor of two Priest projects co-existing in the current metal scene
Released By: Explorer1 Music Group/EX1 Records
Released On: October 1st, 2021
Genre: Heavy Metal
- Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens / Vocals
- K.K. Downing / Guitars
- A.J. Mills/ Guitars
- Tony Newton / Bass
- Sean Elg / Drums
“Sermons Of The Sinner” track listing:
2. Hellfire Thunderbolt
3. Sermons Of The Sinner
4. Sacerdote Y Diablo
5. Raise Your Fists
6. Brothers Of The Road
7. Metal Through And Through
8. Wild And Free
9. Hail For The Priest
10. Return Of The Sentinel
Where some might have argued that a mighty metal mainstay had fallen with the exodus of one of Judas Priest’s pivotal cofounders, two have since risen, and the latter offshoot stakes its claim by turning the clock back a bit more while still keeping with the times